25 posts categorized "Romantic Comedy"

August 06, 2013


12 Months Too Long —

Com-Rom-Rom-Com Tests Your Patience

I Give It a YearAs a premise, a doomed marriage sounds like a no-brainer: you can pile on outrageous episodes of slapstick, physical comedy and biting wit. Unfortunately, "I Give It a Year" is a no-brainer. The film goes all but cold after its otherwise promising opening wedding sequence blows out its last candle. Blame the writing, directing, and casting – courtesy of first-time director Dan Mazer (screenwriter on Sacha Baron Cohen’s laugh-fests “Borat” and “Bruno”). Mazer might have done better to include Baron Cohen in his directorial debut. The thought of Sacha Baron Cohen filling the shoes of the would-be home-wrecker played by pretty-boy Simon Baker screams “comic improvement.” “I Give It a Year” wants to be a modern screwball comedy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t possess any of the requisite madness to set zingers flying.

Most adults have experienced the uncomfortable feeling of watching friends and family members tie the knot where the couple's compatibility level ranks on the negative end of the scale. Sometimes concerned individuals go so far as to perform the thankless task of advising said doomed bride or groom against taking the first step down the aisle with their soon-to-be spouse. The groom’s best-man Danny (irreverently played by Stephen Merchant) attempts such a belated intervention during his no-holds-barred riffing on the groom’s desultory past of romantic indiscretions during the wedding dinner speeches. Alas, the movie peaks early during Danny’s salty talk. It never again approaches such comic heights.
See, for example — or better yet, don't — the unhappy union of London novelist Josh (Rafe Spall) to advertising heavyweight Nat (Rose Byrne). With his first and only novel a success, Josh suffers from writer’s block while his new bride is busy shifting gears into the upper echelon of the international corporate world. Disaster is written all over the place. Nat is already bored with her new husband. Josh needs a more supportive companion. Couples’ therapy sessions with a hypocritical therapist offer little assistance for two people who couldn’t get through a game of checkers. Mazer manages to squander the obvious therapy trope for any of its easy-money comic potential.

Neither Nat nor Josh are appealing characters. Rose Byrne’s Nat is pretty in a predictable way. Her emotional depth resides somewhere in the coif of her hair. Josh is a wishy-washy hipster with the social acumen of a feral cat. He’s too much of a slacker to make an impact. In short, Nat and Josh are generic cinematic creatures. So it’s interesting whenever the focus shifts to the unpredictable Danny, or to Josh’s still-attracted ex-girlfriend Chloe (Anna Faris) – a spitfire humanist who is right down Danny’s oblivious alley. That leaves Simon Baker to thoroughly make a mess of his sub-plot. The appropriately named “Guy” is a romantically inclined American shark on the make in London. Guy is an on-the-nose moniker for a male stereotype that tries too hard to impress whatever woman he sets his sights on. He’s a collector who will roll out the red carpet and set loose white doves during an inappropriate “impromptu” romantic dinner to win over his target. In spite of his Gatsby-like good looks, Guy doesn’t really believe in himself because he’s a phony without a bone of sincerity in his body.

Watching Nat and Josh get what they deserve is akin to eating one of those Swanson “TV dinners” that was popular with latchkey kids back in the ‘70s, when American culture could be charted by its obsessive jumps from one fad [say, tube-tops] to the next [remember yo-yos]. You'd suffer through the flavorless Salisbury steak knowing that you’d finish with the sickly sweet apple-pie – filled with enough preservatives to keep your corpse from decomposing for a week.

Dan Mazer has said that he wanted to make a “com-rom” rather than a “rom-com” – whatever that means. His murky intentions are certainly evident in a formulaic movie that never finds its footing, much less hits any stride.

Rated R. 97 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

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July 23, 2013


Blue_jasmineBlue and Cold
Woody Allen’s Ghost Roams Empty Halls

Woody Allen has bottomed out. His latest attempt at interpreting yet another global mecca — this time San Francisco — through a prism of flailing romance, barely manages to elicit a couple of subdued chuckles. Allen’s busy attempt to add more serious drama than humor on his romantic comedy scales is a depressing affair all around.

The ever-impressive Cate Blanchet plays the title character, a textbook white-woman-of-entitlement struggling to recapture her social status after a sudden fall from affluent grace in New York City. Her adulterous con artist ex-husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) gets the blame, but it takes two to tango. A nervous breakdown has turned Jasmine into a pill-popping ball of anxiety. Hers is the epic mid-life crisis of a woman who has never worked a day in her life. Blanchet’s thin-skinned performance is so convincing it hurts to watch. Too bad “Blue Jasmine” isn’t worthy of her estimable efforts. An Oscar nomination may yet be in the offing.


Allen’s signature fragmented storyline [reference “Annie Hall”] switches between splintered flashbacks of Jasmine’s recent past of marital restlessness in New York, and her current efforts to reinvent herself with the assistance of her similarly adopted “sister” Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco. Jasmine has burned Ginger many times in the past but Ginger still respects their relationship despite Jasmine’s outspoken disdain for everything about Ginger and her lifestyle.

Jasmine takes on a day job as a dentist’s receptionist while studying basic computer skills in preparation for an online course in interior design. Judgmental as the day is long, Jasmine can’t stand Ginger’s blue-collar boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale). Forget that Jasmine was partly responsible for contributing to breaking up Ginger’s former marriage by encouraging the couple to invest their recent windfall with Hal to manage the money at a promised 20% return. Windfall gone.


“Blue Jasmine” is Woody Allen’s sidelong, belated attempt to address fallout symptoms of America’s economic collapse. Tonally, the movie has a sleepwalking quality to it. Characters bump into things and people, but the effect is rarely funny or even sympathetic. The financially bankrupt Jasmine can still charm a wealthy potential love interest into a marriage, but the skeletons in her closet keep popping out at the worst possible moment. The same could be said for Woody Allen.

 Where there was once flesh and blood in his movies, now there are merely broken pieces of murky inspiration that don’t add up. Allen’s once-magical gift for connecting resonant story fragments now leaves sprinkled shards of visually appealing scenes that repeatedly drop off into an abyss of predictable gravity. 

Even Louis C.K.’s glorified cameo as Al, a potential love interest for Ginger, comes off as a disappointment. Andrew Dice Clay fares a little better as Ginger’s ex-husband Augie, but even he can’t help ground the movie. Bobby Cannavale’s character is a bull-in-a-china-shop who steals the movie through his sheer force of masculine will.


Regardless of his career-high box office success with “Midnight in Paris,” Woody Allen hasn’t made a movie as good as “Match Point” since 2005. His effort to build a more dramatically substantial comedy on his kneejerk time-flipping format backfires because the jokes simply aren’t funny. Woody Allen doesn’t know when to quit. That’s not a good thing.

Rated PG-13. 98 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

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March 19, 2013


Ivy League Tina Fey
Higher Learning Gets Schooled

AdmissionAn above-average romantic comedy, “Admission” profits considerably from Tina Fey’s reliable comic efforts as Portia Nathan, a Princeton University admissions officer approaching an unforeseen midlife crisis.

Sending up Ivy League practices for attracting and, mostly, rejecting desperate young college applicants is all part of the film’s canny satire. If the American college system is one big scam, Ivy League schools are shown as the worst offenders. It’s especially droll that the real Princeton University is used rather than a fictional school. In an age when the cost of higher learning comes with potentially bankrupting student loans, “Admission” is about how the process of learning is an ongoing activity that never stops. Having the ability to work inside the system means having the aptitude to move beyond it.


Fey’s upwardly motivated Portia anchors the film’s personal aspects. She’s engaged in a catfight struggle with her African American co-worker Corinne (Gloria Reuben) to take over the soon-to-be-vacant Dean of Admissions post currently held by Wallace Shawn’s Clarence character. Portia’s NPR-approved home life marriage to a pretentiously highbrow college professor — Mark (Michael Sheen) — is going down the drain quick. Tina Fey’s quirky-but-sexy-librarian manner makes her an ideal protagonist ripe for ethical challenges. She receives a doozy.

Recruiting road trips to high schools come with Portia’s job description. Her canned Princeton pitch doesn’t go over so well at New Quest, an alternative high school run by one-man-show educational visionary John Pressman (Paul Rudd), a world traveler committed to bringing up his adopted son. Assembly-line learning isn’t what the students at New Quest have in mind. Here are a group of informed kids capable of reading between the lines of a collegiate educational system built on capitalist ideals of greed, racism, and sexism. There’s comic satisfaction in seeing intelligent — rather than intellectual students — speaking truth to bravura. Portia gets stung.


John has an ulterior motive. He introduces Portia to Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) a young man John has reason to believe is Portia’s biological child that she gave up for adoption nearly two decades ago. John is a helper. He also has the hots for Portia, a fact that her feminist mom (Lily Tomlin) is none to pleased to endorse. She’d rather point her shotgun in his direction.

Paul Rudd continues his winning streak of amiable comic post-hippie characters. A more congenial romantic comic pairing — Fey and Rudd — you are not likely to find.

Portia takes up the insider cause of insuring Jeremiah’s entry into Princeton at any cost. However much Jeremiah has blossomed academically at New Quest — he’s something of a prodigy — his educational past isn’t so impressive on the printed page.

Admission (1)

Crosscurrents of romance, drama, and comedy flow through one another. The movie hits its stride during a roundtable admissions process whereby each officer defends his or her picks for applicants. Comic suspense builds as Portia plays her best game of political strategy on Jeremiah’s behalf.

“Admission” is a “talk film.” Shifts in comic tone come without warning. The audience gets caught up in the battle for pent-up hopes between the film’s three main characters. We want the best for them, but understand that the status quo will never fill that gap. We’ve all still got a lot to learn.

Rated PG-13. 117mins. (B) (Three stars - out of five/no halves)

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.


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